gin & kerosene (ugly_boy) wrote in linguaphiles,
gin & kerosene

Numbers and digits

In English we often deal with numbers differently in common speech than we might in proper, especially written, language or in mathematical contexts. Decimals, zeros, years and multiples of ten and years are some cases that come to mind. For example we might read:

  • 2.7 as "two seven" instead of "two point seven"
  • 0.7 as "point seven" instead of "zero point seven"
  • 0.07 as "point O seven" (pronounced as in the letter 'O' rather than the digit zero)
  • $19.95 as "nineteen ninety-five" instead of "nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents," and never as "nineteen point nine five dollars" or "ninenteen and ninety-five one hundredths of a dollar"
  • $0.05 as "five cents" instead of "point zero five cents dollars" or "zero point zero five cents dollars"
  • 1995 as "nineteen ninety-five" insted of "one thousand nine-hundred and ninety-five"
  • 2010 as "twenty-ten" instead of "two thousand and 10" or "two thousand ten"
  • (the year) '10 as "ten"
  • (the year) '01 as "O-one"
  • 3.05 as "three O five" instead of "three point zero five"
  • 1,100 as "eleven hundred" instead of "one thousand [and] one hundred"

In many cases proper understanding of the spoken number depends on some knowledge of the context. For example a price quotes as "nineteen ninety five" could refer to $19.95 or $1995.00 and it's up to the speaker and listener to understand what is the correct figure based on a reasonable price range for the item in question. If it's a DVD it probably refers to the $19.95, if it's a used car then one would assume the price is $1995.00. The words "dollars" and "cents" are often omitted, except when something costs less than a dollar. I'm not sure if this is handled the same way outside of the US, or in different parts of the country.

In textbooks and other materials dashes and decimals are often used to separate different sections. For example section seven of chapter two is often written as either "2.7" or "2-7" and in either case a teacher might tell his class to "read section two-seven tonight." "Two point seven" or "two dash seven" might also be used, but I don't think I've ever heard "two hyphen seven" for 2-7. English speakers will also often replace thousand with "k" (from kilo) or "grand" or "G's." So you might hear someone say "She made 80 G's last year." I assume the G should be capitalized since this is how we normally refer to a letter by itself, but not the k since it is not capitalized in the SI system (as in kg for kilogram).

How would speakers of other languages commonly deal with the examples I've listed? Is it different from the "proper" way of reading the number? Are there other unique or interesting cases where number or digits are treated differently? Are there any English uses I've missed, or ones I've listed that you disagree with? This is certainly not an comprehensive list, just some things I was thinking about today when my math instructor was talking about tonight's assignment.

Tags: american english, english, multiple languages, numbers

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